New Tornillo Port of Entry Opens as Construction Continues

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced Monday the opening of a new international border crossing near the small border town of Tornillo, TX.

Construction on the new, six-lane port of entry has been underway since July of 2011, when CBP announced a $96 million project to replace an existing two-lane entry point in nearby Fabens.

At the time, CBP cited a forecast for growing cross-border trade as the motivation behind the new port.

The new Tornillo crossing would be a step forward in cross-border economic partnerships, but would also represent “joint efforts in standing guard at our nation’s doorstep,” the CBP said in 2011.

On the other side of that door, the Mexican town of Guadalupe – just across the Rio Grande from Tornillo and Fabens – has suffered from brutal drug war violence.

In 2012, Texas Observer reporter Melissa del Bosque dubbed Guadalupe and the surrounding Juárez Valley “The Deadliest Place in Mexico.”

The violence crippled the town’s population and its leadership, forcing most of its residents to flee, as del Bosque reports:

Anybody who worked for the town of Guadalupe prior to 2008 has either been killed or fled. There was once a police force of 10 officers, but by the end of 2010 none remained. More than half of them had been killed, some of their heads placed on the gazebo and park benches of Guadalupe’s town plaza as a warning. The remaining officers fled.

The mayor and city council left town after two city council members were gunned down in 2009. Gunmen caught up with Mayor Jesus Manuel Lara in 2010, killing him outside the home he’d fled to in Juárez. After Lara’s death, Tomás Archuleta, an accountant, became Guadalupe’s new mayor. Upon assuming office, he asked Erika Gandara, his 28-year-old niece and a former security guard, to be the town’s lone police officer.

CBP wouldn’t comment on the current situation in Guadalupe, and instead referred us to the U.S. State Department, but CBP Chief Officer Ruben Jauregui of El Paso says the agency keeps national security a priority at all times.

“We’re at heightened awareness regardless of whether there’s any kind of violence in Mexico or not,” he said. “We will inspect everyone the same.”

Vehicles began being processed through the new Tornillo International Port of Entry on Monday, Nov. 17. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Vehicles began being processed through the new Tornillo International Port of Entry on Monday, Nov. 17. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Jauregui says the nearby violence wasn’t a motivating factor behind the new facility, saying the crossing has been in the planning stages for years.

“This is just part of us growing and making our facilities bigger and more secure,” he said. “There’s growth in the communities, and the other port of entry was an old facility.”

“It’s based on what CBP needs to process our travelers coming through with trade growing,” Jauregui added.

Still, an outspoken El Paso-based attorney who has worked for asylum-seekers from Guadalupe and the surrounding areas in Mexico, says violence and extortion in the town continue and have only gotten worse in the past couple of years.

“Even though it’s safe to cross goods, it’s not safe to be a Mexican,” said attorney Carlos Spector.

He says his firm continues to be “overwhelmed” by asylum requests from Guadalupe and the surrounding region.

The U.S. State Department hasn’t issued any travel advisories specific to the Guadalupe area, although various traveling warnings for Ciudad Juárez and across the state of Chihuahua remain in effect.

For now, an initial four lanes are open to passenger vehicles at the Tornillo crossing and another two are opened for pedestrians. CBP expects the new port of entry to be fully operational and open to commercial traffic by early next year, once construction is finished on the Mexican side.

“Once they start and they’re able to process through their new facility, we’re ready,” Juaregui said. He predicts Tornillo and Fabens on the Texas side will benefit from the project.

“As the traffic increases, the towns will get a little bigger and it will help their economy,” he said. “I’m sure both sides of the U.S. and Mexico will grow and be able to expand as needed.”

About Travis Bubenik

All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter
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